By Raegan Whiteside
Man-haters. Bra-burning, crazy bitches. Hateful women. Nasty women.
Feminists often are linked to hate and are labeled derogatory terms. But why? We speak up and instead of our words being heard, we are shamed, silenced and marginalized by the misguided idea that feminists are hate-filled.
Last time I checked, it isn’t hate that we, feminists, embody. It’s courage and it’s strength. We may be angry and we may be mad, but we are not hateful.
Don’t get me wrong – just because we don’t promote hate doesn’t mean I and other feminist women don’t feel and know hate. If those who misunderstand feminists could listen to what we have to say, perhaps they would understand us better. And maybe they would be surprised that feminists don’t walk around with their middle fingers in the air and smiles forever erased from their faces.
So let’s go on a journey to better understand the truths of this feminist woman.
A preschool-age girl was swinging on the monkey bars. Looking down halfway across the bars she got scared, not realizing how high from the ground she was. She asked one of her classmates to help her down, but he said he would help her only if she showed him her underwear. She agreed because she was scared of getting hurt. The teacher caught them and she got in trouble.
She’s now 5, already exposed to rape, sexual harassment and abuse in the media. Most of the scenarios involve women as victims and men as attackers and aggressors. This isn’t just on television, though – she has begun to notice this in the real world, too.
Now in kindergarten, an older boy on the bus threatens her and two other girls with a geometry compass and tells them he will stab them if they move. He didn’t want to sit with them, so he chose to scare and threaten them. Just like that little girl is learning her role in this society, the little boy is learning his.
She’s in fifth grade and a classmate starts her period. She knows what’s happening but the other students don’t and think it’s gross. The boys and girls laugh and make fun of her. She feels embarrassment for the girl, even though she knows it’s a natural bodily function. They don’t know better, though. They’ve already been taught that being female is grounds for humiliation.
In junior high she wears a skirt to school. In science class a boy drops a pencil in front of her desk. He lingers. She realizes that he is trying to stare up her skirt. She doesn’t wear a skirt to school again.
She is in high school now and a football player rubs her leg in class. Even though she tells him to stop and her classmates hear her, no one does anything. The teacher is the football coach. He doesn’t do anything either. It continues the rest of the semester.
She’s a senior in high school and about to leave for college. Everyone warns her about “frat parties,” tells her to always pour her own drink, go out with friends and never walk home alone. Her parents make her buy pepper spray, and she carries it with her at all times. She looks up the crime rate on campuses when making her decision where to go.
It’s 2016 and she’s in college now. She wakes up and learns that another underqualified man has won a position in high political office over a qualified woman. Further, the man is known for saying and doing derogatory things to women. The country she calls home and should feel safe in has elected this man as president.
She has a part-time job. A man comes into her work and tells her and her co-worker that he’s going to picture them when he masturbates.
She’s at the library late studying for a test when she decides to walk home. Men call at her from an alley and run down the street chasing her. When she tells others the story, they say she should’ve known better.
She hears and reads stories of her sisters and mothers around the world and here at home who feel this kind of hate every day. She hears stories of women who are paid less than men for the same job, who are groped and drugged in bars and at parties, who don’t make it home safely, whose homes are not safe, who aren’t given a chance to experience an education, who aren’t treated equally, fairly or humanely because they are women.
That young girl is not just me. That woman is not just me. It’s every woman who has had the experience of being brought up in this society and culture that disrespects women so often. This is just one story, however. Women of color, lesbian women, transgender women, other marginalized women experience forms of hate as well. Despite all this, however, I’m not filled with hate, and neither are the other women who go through the same situations, and often worse ones.
At times I’m filled with anger and at times all the anger comes out in ways I’m not proud of, but I don’t hate anyone, and I’m especially not a man-hater – even after directly experiencing and witnessing evidence that men can be dangerous and discriminatory. My life is also filled with compassionate, admirable, honest men that give me hope. One of my roommates is a man; I love my dad, grandfathers and many men in my life. If I were a man-hater I wouldn’t be a very good one. But I am angry. I’m angry that I have to even argue for my right to be angry – for my right to express my anger and share my experiences of hate. I’m angry that people continue to label me as hateful instead of simply listening to what I have to say. I’m angry that the very hate I’m fighting against is being directed at me.
Feminism has given me the mindset and skills to see the broader picture of our society – to understand that some men are bad, but not all men. To understand that my anger isn’t for nothing or just my emotions talking, but rather my anger is true and needed and has nothing to do with hate.
So sure, call us bitches and nasty and hateful. Call us all the names you want. But, we won’t stop. Feminists won’t stop telling their truth and speaking out against hate and discrimination. We won’t stop fighting.
Raegan Whiteside is a junior at the College of Charleston majoring in English and Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Spanish. She writes for the school newspaper and is co-president of the college’s Literati Club, a humanities club whose mission is to spread appreciation and love for all forms of art. In addition to her extracurriculars, she keeps busy with two jobs. She is the 2018-2019 Alison Piepmeier scholarship recipient and part of the 2018 WGS Oral History research team dedicated to the research and documentation of the history of the WGS program.